Number of gig economy workers triples over past five years

One in seven regularly works in the gig economy, research has found.

Of working adults in England and Wales, 14.7% told researchers they worked for a gig economy platform at least once a week, compared with 11.8% who said the same in 2019 and 5.8% in 2016.

The workers were polled by the University of Hertfordshire and Britain Thinks for a TUC report, which warned that “spiralling” gig economy work would lead to more workers on low pay and in poorer working conditions.

“Our research shows that the gig economy is a substantial part of the UK’s workforce and I expect it to continue to grow. ‘Gig’ work can offer flexibility, but many workers also experience lower pay and poor working conditions,” said Professor Neil Spencer, head of the statistical services consulting unit at the University of Hertfordshire.

“Those classified as self-employed also have less rights than employees. It is vital that pay and conditions for gig workers are improved to protect those who rely on this work as a source of income.”

The survey of 2,201 workers, carried out in July 2021, also found that 22.6% of workers have worked for a “platform” at some point, up from 11.5% in 2016.

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Examples of platform work include taxi driving, food delivery, software development, household repairs and cleaning.

The proportion of the working population carrying our gig economy work in delivery and driving roles has quadrupled over the past five years, rising to 8.9% in 2021 from 1.9% in 2016, the research found.

In 2021 11.9% of the working population carried our remote digital tasks, up from 4.9% in 2016; and 7.9% carried out household services booked through an app or website, up from 3.2% in 2016.

There has also been a notable shift in the gender balance among platform workers during this period. In 2016 men made up 48.6% of frequent platform workers, but by 2021 this had risen to 68.4%.

Platform workers are also most likely to be in the 25-44 age group.

The union body has called for gig workers to be granted greater trade union and individual rights including:

A New Zealand-style right of access to workplaces for unions, including a digital right of access, to enable them to talk to workers about what union membership can offer them
A new ‘worker’ status definition that covers all existing employees and workers and gives them a full range of legal rights, including holiday pay and sick pay
A ban on zero hours contracts by giving workers the right to a contract reflecting their normal hours of work and adequate notice of shifts.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Gig economy platforms are using new technologies to carry out the age-old practice of worker exploitation. Too often gig workers are denied their rights and are treated like disposable labour. The Supreme Court Uber judgment earlier this year was just the beginning. Unions won’t rest until pay and conditions have improved for gig workers.

“It’s time for change. Ministers must stop letting gig economy platforms off the hook. That means giving all gig workers trade union access, banning zero hours contracts and boosting workers’ rights across the board.”


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